I was delighted to visit Bristol yesterday, to see for myself the excellent initiatives taking place in this city to tackle Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and violence against girls and women.
My first stop was St Werburgh’s Primary School. Under the inspiring leadership of the school’s headteacher and her team, plus the outreach work of Bristol’s nurse for safeguarding children, the school has developed an excellent relationship with the local community. This enables them to have honest conversations with pupils and parents about a range of sensitive issues, including FGM. I am convinced that this kind of school leadership and approach to safeguarding children is vital in the fight against FGM and I look forward to meeting representatives from teaching unions and safeguarding boards soon to discuss this.
At the school and later in one of their homes, I met mothers from the local Somali community to hear their thoughts on how to stop FGM. These women are determined that their daughters will not be cut and say attitudes are changing. But they explained how the subject remains taboo within communities and is generally not discussed, even amongst women. And when these women have presented at clinics or hospitals in the UK, the medical staff often have little or no experience of FGM. I am very pleased to see Jane Ellison – a long-time, dedicated campaigner on FGM – appointed to the Department of Health this week and am sure this will be an issue she tackles as Minister.
In the afternoon I visited City Academy, home of the charity Integrate Bristol. I met staff and young people from Integrate who have been driving forward a campaign over the last few years against FGM. Later, the Integrate team delivered a fantastic event at Bristol’s City Hall, supported by Mayor George Ferguson, to celebrate the young people’s work and thank those who have supported them. It was a moving, funny and dynamic event, showcasing the work of the charity over the last few years – from a Newsnight appearance, to advising the BBC on their Casualty FGM episode, to writing and performing a successful play. The boldness and creativity of these teenagers is amazing and gives me faith that, as girls are educated and empowered, we will see an end to FGM.
I am very grateful to all involved for an instructive and inspiring day. A particular thanks to Nimco Ali from the campaign group Daughters of Eve, who has worked with communities, schools and local groups over many years to raise awareness about FGM and campaign for its end.
Bristol is pioneering an approach to tackling FGM which combines strong leadership, empowering girls and women, and working across government sectors. There is a long way to go, but great strides have been made. I have come back to London with hope and with ideas!